Danny Williams packs up as N.L. premier

Danny Williams, whose fiery political style made him a household name across Canada, takes his leave as Newfoundland and Labrador's ninth premier.
Danny Williams arrives at Confederation Building in St. John's Friday morning to complete his term as Newfoundland and Labrador's ninth premier. ((CBC) )

Danny Williams, whose fiery political style made him a household name across Canada, took his leave Friday as Newfoundland and Labrador's ninth premier.

"I'm resigned to my fate now, to be quite honest with you," Williams said as he arrived at his office in Confederation Building in St. John's to help supervise a transition of power to Kathy Dunderdale, who had been Williams's deputy premier and natural resources minister.

"But it's going to be an emotional day for everybody here in the building and staff, but, you know, I'm ready to get on with it."

Williams announced his retirement a week earlier, astonishing political observers who had expected him to fight for a third term in next October's general election. Williams, though, said he had accomplished what he wanted, and that the time was right for his Progressive Conservatives to be infused with new ideas.

In one of his last public appearances as premier, Williams celebrated a landslide Progressive Conservative byelection win Thursday night in the district of Conception Bay East-Bell Island, called after cabinet minister Dianne Whalen died this fall after battling cancer.

"We're boxing up in the office, and putting the files together and storing some away and taking some with me," Williams said at candidate David Brazil's headquarters. "It's starting to hit."

Williams rocked political circles when he announced his retirement from politics. He cited an interim deal with Nova Scotia on the Lower Churchill hydroelectric megaproject as the completion of the last important item on his list of political goals.

Williams's final day in office is expected to be low-key. He will finish clearing out his office, say goodbye to staff and then watch Dunderdale become the first woman to lead Newfoundland and Labrador.

As far as Williams is concerned, Dunderdale is already premier, and the transition is underway.

"[I will] let the new team take over, and you know, I'll watch and I'll be so supportive in any way that I can be," Williams said.

Williams has not said much about what he intends to do, other than return to his business interests. He said he intends to keep working at something for the rest of his life.

Despite hefty speculation from national media and political pundits, Williams said he has no interest in federal politics, but last week admitted he would "never say never" about a political return.

Sky-high popularity takes a knock

Meanwhile, Williams leaves office with high popularity, although a national pollster found that he has taken a bit of a dent because of a confrontation with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

Polling company Angus Reid found that Williams had an approval rating of 67 per cent. While that's the highest in the country, it's down from 80 per cent last February.

"Even at 67 per cent, while that's not Williams's best, it's still extraordinary by Canadian standards," said Angus Reid vice-president Jaideep Mukerji.

"What we're seeing is that there's a really serious spike in the number of people who say that health care is the biggest challenge facing the province at this moment, and I think that's a reflection of the ongoing negotiations that are taking place over the contract with the doctors in that province."

On Wednesday, Health Minister Jerome Kennedy broke with a long-running insistence that doctors accept a standing contract offer and invited the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association leadership to a meeting on Friday.